Art by Jenny Vidovic

Maddy Noonan opens up about performance and its role in her mental health. Here is her story.

A long time ago, or so the story goes, an aristocratic family in Cheshire had a lion on their crest. This family commissioned a painting of their crest, as was common for families of this status to do, but what they received was rather uncommon. When their commissioned painting was finished, the lion didn’t look like a lion at all; it looked like a cat with a creepy smile.

This painter, whoever they were, did a fantastically bad job. Their name is lost to the annals of history.

What remains, however, is that cat. This abysmal painting of a lion birthed the colloquialism “grinning like a Cheshire cat” which would eventually be brought to life by Lewis Carroll as the Cheshire Cat who guides Alice through Wonderland. “We’re all mad here,” the Cheshire Cat reminds us. “You may have noticed I’m not all there myself,” the Cheshire Cat warns, without ever losing that quintessential smile. How much did Alice learn from this liminal creature on her journey through an unknowable world? How much can we learn from figures or situations that don’t “make sense”, at least at first?

I don’t know if you’ve tried recently to find anyone who isn’t familiar with the Cheshire Cat, but it’s difficult. The Cheshire Cat is a household name, and we wouldn’t have it if this nameless painter hadn’t done a terrible job painting a lion.

Hi. My name is Maddy. I’m an actor, producer, playwright, musician, stage combatant. I also happen to be NAMI Seattle’s Communications & Outreach Manager. You’ve probably seen a few emails from me recently, a Facebook post here or there – thanks for reading so far.

Dear reader, I confess: while NAMI Seattle is a part of my life, it’s not the whole story by a long shot.

Since I graduated from college, I’ve been making it work in this town with the standard “day job” plus making theatre at night. This life makes for long days and late nights. In 2016 I had gotten a little too busy, so I decided to take a break from my evening activities. It was during this time that my mental health deteriorated, my unhealthy coping mechanisms got self-destructive, and I found what most addicts would recognize as Rock Bottom.

This dark time lead to some serious self-review, reading and subsequently recommending In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate ad infinitum, crying in therapy, and eventually building a relationship with myself that was sustainable.

Turns out, I take care of myself by making art. Who doesn’t love a plot twist?

Left to right: Shakesbeerience, Oh for the Love Of-, She Kills Monsters, Florida Man.

When I perform, I spend my time with the most generous, authentic, curious people. We give our energies, time, heart, and vulnerabilities to a bunch of words on a page and bring stories to life. There’s an energy exchange between the performers and audience members when you’re doing something live. Your audience is listening, or screaming at you “yas queen” or “no please”, or hiding behind their program because you’re scaring them – it’s all part of the back-and-forth. That energy exchanged between a performer and their audience has saved my life.

Dear reader, I’m writing to you in my official capacity at NAMI Seattle to announce that my worlds are converging. More specifically, I’m bringing the art world to NAMI Seattle.

This May it was my honor to help NAMI hold two arts-centric events: In tandem with ERC Insight Behavioral Health Center, we produced Head & HeART : Creating Our Recovery at Copious.

“Many of us, and if not us, then our friends, relatives, or neighbors live with mental illnesses. Often times those invisible ghosts and those intangible struggles can be tough to express or articulate through words. Art can be a great way to express some of these tough to explain feelings, and it can help us heal. All across the walls were pieces of art detailing the stories, struggles, and victories of people living with mental illnesses. These personal narratives on the walls, and the heavy stories they bore, some about insecurity, some about anxiety, some about fear, some about depression, some about completely different things.” –Tyler Hearing and Lamar Hendrikse

The week after Head & HeART, we held My One Precious Life: A Poetry As Healing Workshop at the Hillman City Collaboratory.

“I so enjoyed facilitating the NAMI’s Poetry as Therapy Workshop on May 21. I brought a poem that focused on recovery. We talked about the lines and ideas that leaped out for us. Participants then responded some more by writing for ten minutes. I used a retro kitchen timer. When the bell rang, almost everyone wanted to read what they had written. There was so much recovery in the room. The hour and half went by so fast.
As a depressed teenager, poems spoke to me like no one else could. Poets like Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson seemed to have understood the dark places inhabited. After taking a course in Poetry as Therapy in graduate school, I was thrilled to be able to facilitate groups in community mental health settings. I am thrilled at the possibility of leading more Poetry as Therapy groups for NAMI Greater Seattle.” -Naomi Stenberg

Dear reader, we have only begun. I am dedicated to NAMI Seattle continuing to facilitate artful workshops – not just because it’s my life’s work, but because this is how I can best serve the NAMI community. If you’re interested in getting involved or you have ideas for a creative workshop, let’s talk: